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COVID-19 Town Hall Focuses On Impact In Tampa Bay Region

Kami Kim, Mayor Jane Castor, Marty Martin, Edwin Michael, Michael Teng and Art Woods have a virtual town hall meeting at Busch Gardens Tampa.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and four health professors from the University of South Florida discussed how COVID-19 has impacted employment, minority communities and the future health of the greater Tampa Bay region.

Castor said nearly $8 million has been spent providing financial support for people needing to pay mortgages, rent and utilities. Castor said these programs aimed to help small businesses as well.

“There are a lot of small businesses that are going to go out of business,” Castor said during the town hall held virtually Thursday night. “And so we're doing everything that we can to help them avoid that.”

The state on Friday announced that Florida’s unemployment rate for September reached 7.6%. In August, the Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater metropolitan area reported an unemployment rate of 6.8%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Castor said the city is now working on getting people back to work, specifically in the hospitality industry. Efforts in Tampa will concentrate on workforce development and retraining.

“We are trying to get individuals retrained and back into jobs as quickly as we possibly can,” said Castor. “We are working in concert here in our community for innovative ideas and ways that we can continue to lift our community up.”

Castor said some good has come from the challenges presented by the pandemic. Competing hospitals have been able to come together in efforts to limit the spread of the virus, she said.

“You know a lot of our premiere hospitals are usually competitors and they have all come together with USF medical to do everything that we can to look for, not only vaccines, but the treatment for COVID-19,” she said.

The discussion also addressed health impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“It's not going to go away,” said Edwin Michael, a professor at the USF Health College of Public Health. “I mean, COVID is going to join the it's not ever going to go away.”

The panel also acknowledged that the risk for illness is greater in some communities than others. From the beginning, West Tampa’s Latino community and East Tampa’s Black residents were the focus of testing efforts, Castor said. Both have been disproportionately affected by the virus in the United States.

Castor said the city provided low-income neighborhoods with testing sites, mobile testing, locations for quarantine and over 400,000 masks to people in need.

Kami Kim, a professor at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, said many of the people who are affected by the virus are poor, and are needing to take public transportation.

“They’re in a situation where they can’t wear a mask...or they’re exposed and vulnerable,” she said.

Michael Teng, an associate professor at the College of Medicine, said people who have not been affected or susceptible to COVID-19 are still part of the community and need to help those at risk.

“You have to make sure that you don't think just about yourself, think about us as a community, because we are a community,” said Teng.

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Courtney Holland